Don’t sugar quote it !
Sugar consumption is at its highest level in history. Global consumption of added sugar has increased by a whopping 46% per person per day in the last 30 years.
We are born with a preference for sweet foods and sugar has played a vital role in our survival at times when food has been scarce. But in our sugar-coated world our preference for sweet foods has led to excessive consumption.
With some media headlines describing sugar as ‘poison’ and numerous studies linking it directly or indirectly to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, it would seem there is cause for concern. But is sugar all bad – and is all sugar bad?
Am I eating too much sugar?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends we reduce our daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of our total calorie intake (about 12 tsp per day). It calls for a further reduction to less than 5% (about 6 tsp per day) if possible.
We once primarily ate sugars that naturally occurred in fruit and vegetables, but research suggests that added sugar is now the main source of sugar in our diets. The problem with added sugar is that it is not bound up with other nutrients, such as fibre. The WHO uses the term ‘free sugars’ to describe free-floating sugars that are instantly absorbed by the digestive system. All sugar that is added to our food is classified as ‘free sugars’. A concern with free sugars is that they make it easy to eat excess calories; you may drink a can of soft drink but you would not eat four apples because the fibre in the apples makes you feel full. Free sugars are not necessary for a balanced diet.
Can I substitute sugar with honey?
It is commonly believed that honey is a healthy alternative to sugar. But this isn’t true; honey is a sugar. When we think of sugar, we often think of table sugar, but sugar is a blanket term for sweet-tasting, energy dense carbohydrates. Table sugar consists of two simple sugars bonded together. These simple sugars are glucose and fructose. Honey is also made up of glucose and fructose.
Honey is a free sugar
Honey, along with maple syrup, agave nectar and rice malt syrup, is in the ‘free sugars’ club and needs to be restricted. Free sugars are also found in fruit juices, as they do not tend to contain the fibre found in whole fruit and vegetables.
To your body it does not matter whether free sugar comes from honey or table sugar. The bottom line is that honey brings added sugar and calories to your diet and needs to be restricted.
Fructose Vs Glucose
In the sugar debate fructose is often portrayed as the villain. But is fructose, also known as fruit sugar, worse than other sugars?
Fructose in the body
Concern about fructose focuses on how it is processed by the body. All cells in the body can process glucose, whereas only the liver can process fructose in significant amounts, which means that excessive consumption may tax the liver. It has also been suggested that fructose interferes with the proper functioning of the hormones ghrelin, which signals hunger to the brain, and leptin, which generates a feeling of satiety. This may cause us to over-eat.
Could fructose be healthier than glucose?
Some claim fructose is healthier than other sugars as it has a low glycaemic index so does not raise blood sugar levels as much as glucose. In fact, as of 2015 food manufacturers in Europe who substitute other sugars with fructose can put a health claim on their products.
What’s the verdict?
A problem with research in this area is that studies involve consuming fructose in far greater quantities than we would eat in a regular diet, so they are not easy to draw conclusions from. Overall there is a consensus that there is no significant difference between fructose and glucose in terms of their implications for health.